A note on the back cover of Peter Gill’s latest play, Something in the Air, at Jermyn Street Theatre, claims that the stories of the two old protagonists “flow like mist down the Thames”. The reality is that their tales create a fog that is often hard to see through. “As the old men’s youth comes to life, so do the young men they once loved.” Thanks for that. It’s unfortunate that this gem of information is not made more widely known from the outset, for therein lies the key to navigating through the clag. Before reading the sleeve a conversation on the street after the play with a man who had fathomed it out allowed me to unravel the mire of this play on the way home.
An essentially static and lifeless production
Alex (Christopher Godwin) and Colin (Ian Gelder) sit side by side in matching red leather armchairs staring somewhat hauntingly into the audience, when not nodding off. Neither has a direct gaze, as might be the case if their alternating reminiscences were addressed to us in the form of a monologue. Neither are they part of a conversation each has with the other. Only occasionally do they interact. The appearance of two young men, Nicholas (James Schofield) and Gareth (Sam Thorpe-Spinks), one on each side, might suggest that these two are the younger incarnations of the old men. Believing that can lead to considerable confusion, for these two apparitions are in fact the respective first loves of the two men, who exist in their minds and to whom their words are addressed.
They are joined by two real-time visitors. Clare (Claire Price), the niece of Colin and Andrew (Andrew Woodall), Alex’s son, whom he frequently confuses with his other son Robert, a reminder that his mind is not what it used to be. His obsession with a family dog not being not allowed on the premises further illustrates his mental deterioration. There’s more to the Robert and the dog story, but telling would spoil a tiny twist.
The rather shallow Andrew makes a great deal of fuss about the men placing their hands on top of each other and what the carers might think while not understanding why Clare is not bothered about it. She points out that he is making a fuss over nothing and it’s hard not to disagree and wonder why this element was ever included. Indeed, the existence of the four minor characters often seems questionable, given that their parts are considerably underwritten and that they remain idle for much of the time.
The two men never leave their chairs and the direction under Peter Gill and Alice Hamilton makes for an essentially static and lifeless production, with the most minimal of sound matched by lighting that remains constant throughout.
An encouraging aspect of the play is that here we have a new work that provides an opportunity for elderly actors to assume centre-stage. Godwin is 79 and Gelder 73. The downside is that they become stereotypical portrayals of men in the declining years of life in a nursing home, but then that is what the play is about.
Throw in some rambling memories of happier days and that is Something in the Air.